Russia-launched satellite crashes into Pacific seconds after lift-off

1 Feb 2013

The Sea Launch floating launch platform for rockets in the Pacific Ocean. Image via Sea Launch

A Russian rocket carrying a telecommunications satellite crashed into the Pacific Ocean this morning around 50 seconds after it blasted off from an ocean-based floating platform.

The Intelsat 27 spacecraft was carrying a satellite, built by Boeing, that had been destined to be positioned over the Atlantic to provide 15 or more years of telecoms services to media, government and other customers in the Americas and Europe.

The Zenit-3SL rocket launched from the equator on the floating Odyssey pad, which is operated by Sea Launch, at 6.55am (GMT).

The company is headquartered in Bern, Switzerland, and is owned by a Russian-led consortium led by Energia Overseas.

According to Russian news agency Ria Novosti, the failure of the Zenit-3SL rocket happened as a result of an emergency shutdown of its first stage motor shortly after take-off.

“There was a malfunction – an emergency shutdown of the first-stage motor – around 50 seconds into the flight. We’re now discussing what happened,” said Vitaly Lopota, head of Russia’s rocket and space corporation Energia.

It seems that the rocket crashed into the Pacific not far from the Odyssey launch pad, which was not damaged.

Sea Launch has also confirmed that around 40 seconds after lift-off all telemetry was lost.

The company will now set up a failure review oversight board to find out the root cause of the incident.

“We are very disappointed with the outcome of the launch and offer our sincere regrets to our customer, Intelsat, and their spacecraft provider, Boeing,” said Kjell Karlsen, president of Sea Launch, in a statement.

He said the cause of the failure is “unknown”, but that Sea Launch would be working with Intelsat, Boeing, Energia and it Zenit-3SL suppliers.

“We will do everything reasonably possible to recover from this unexpected and unfortunate event,” said Karlsen.

The launch of the rocket and satellite had already been delayed for 24 hours. An article on claimed that the delay was the result of conflict with NASA resources linked to the use of the telemetry and data relay satellite systems used by Sea Launch for in-flight telemetry tracking.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic